Thursday, December 2, 2004

33. Is there reasoning in fate?

The holiday season brings imagery of magic and miracles. From the holiday spirit to religious tradition, the season is filled with stories of warmth and comfort. The season is also filled with holiday masterpieces, such as "A Christmas Carol," "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Miracle on 34th Street," that tempt the magical romance of destiny with the miraculous mysteries of life.

The idea of destiny is a problematic one, full of notions, misgivings and ideas- each as plausible as the next. This debate, the idea of fate and destiny versus personal choice and free will, makes for fascinating conversation with family and friends. Good-natured dialogue, the sparring over meanings and reasons attributed to fate are fun to postulate and consider.

It is impossible not to consider fate, especially when just the other day I left fifteen minutes late for work only to pass a serious accident in my path that looked to have occurred ten to fifteen minutes prior. Immediately my thoughts turned to, "What if I would have left on time," and "Why was I running late on this day, of all days?" Sometimes there is guilt, "Would things have turned out differently if I wasn't late," for I thought maybe my influence on the situation would have changed things. Maybe I would have slowed down one of the drivers, altering the split-second coordination of the event. Conversely, maybe I would have made things worse. I can go back and consider things like the time I went to bed, how long it took to let my dogs out, etc. But maybe, in the end, the accident was a matter of destiny for the drivers involved?

The insinuation of fate makes up the popular phrase, "everything happens for a reason." So often, and in a variety of situations, the phrase is used to account for an unpleasant occurrence. And the phrase is somewhat synonymous to "God works in mysterious ways," for inevitably it is only God that has knowledge of the reason behind the unpleasant occurrence. Regardless of responsibility, the phrase aims at providing comfort and reassurance- to mark the event minor in the grand scheme of things. So, if for example, someone loses his or her job, the response that everything happens for a reason both, takes away some responsibility and proposes that greater opportunities remain ahead. It can definitely make someone feel better, but is it accurate?

The rebuttal to this reassurance is that unpleasant things often happen and then we find the reason (i.e. cause and effect) or, subsequently, note the insignificance of its occurrence. Hence, in the example above, the reason is probably not the destiny of better opportunity, although that may certainly happen, but rather the reality of layoffs or poor performance. That does not, however, mean that there is not anything good that may come of the situation. Perhaps the person who lost his job was under too much stress, and his or her health was suffering, or his or her marriage was under duress. To me, that is finding a "silver lining," not the composition of destiny.

There is always a traceable (although perhaps unknown) sequence of events that act as the perceived determination of fate. Consider President Kennedy's assassination. His assassination, both the act of, and the events leading up to it, contained numerous events that necessarily fell perfectly into the hands of fate. But the question is- if he were not murdered that day in Dallas, would he have been murdered the following week in Washington, or the next month in Chicago? Of course, we are never to know whether fate could have been altered, or if he was destined to be assassinated.

The same is also true in reverse, as sometimes an occurrence is held accountable for a sequence of events which it may or may not actually be responsible for. In this case, an event takes place and fate revolves around it. However, the key is that each event sets into motion another event, like a large decision tree- with differing paths dependent on the outcome of each individual event. The possibilities grow exponentially. The movie "The Butterfly Effect," brilliantly illustrates this point when as single events are altered, the entire outcome is changed. The main character in the movie repeatedly attempts to change the one event that would bring about his desired outcome- and, as he discovers, the possibilities are many and sometimes even tragic.

It may be impossible to ever know the truth of fate. And rather than subscribing in the allure of destiny, skepticism magnetically consumes my nature. But things do happen for a reason, and the question is, "Does the attributed reason precede or follow the event?" Whereas preceding reasoning relies on facts, or at least consistent interpretation, reasoning following the event is dependant on hope and faith. That said, admittedly, there have been many times in my life that I needed to hear the reassuring reason of hope- even if I only accepted it for a short period of time.

32. Wal-Mart- Genius or dangerous?

The retail giant known as Wal-Mart has become the icon of capitalism. Having studied Wal-Mart both through formal education and independent research, such as magazine articles and semi-documentaries, I remain, admittedly, an amateur on the topic- for Wal-Mart's economic impact is an entrenched web of complicated study. At their best, they are genius, innovative and committed; at their worst, they are arrogant, dangerous and unethical. Communities across the country, and increasingly internationally, carefully consider and debate the benefits and consequences of having a Wal-Mart in their area.

Wal-Mart's genius lies in at least two areas- ideology and logistics. Wal-Mart's recognition of its place in the retail market was brilliant. Though an immense undertaking, Wal-Mart recognized that its philosophy of low prices could be achieved through expert logistics, state-of-the art inventory systems, purchasing power and self-promotion. Regarding itself as a consumer advocate- fighting to ensure the lowest prices for its customers- Wal-Mart embarked on a campaign to lower its costs in every aspect of business. This was accomplished through efficient inventory management and advanced distribution systems, which is commendable; however, the other end of the equation is squeezing suppliers and, even its own labor force, out of every penny imaginable. Wal-Mart, in its obsession to lower costs, was described by Business Week as, "a cult masquerading as a company."

The trickle down theory of Wal-Mart's competitive pricing is manufacturing outsourcing, the closure of local small business and low wages for employees. The retail equivalent of lean manufacturing, Wal-Mart eliminates every bit of waste out of its suppliers, local economies and employees. It cares not how it happens; just that it does happen. When suppliers can no longer be profitable with American workers, Wal-Mart discreetly suggests oversea manufacturing. As for the lost American jobs, well at least the unemployment checks will go a bit further. Competing local businesses, according to the CNN report, lose 25% of its business the day a Wal-Mart opens in its area- and many close their doors within three months. Wal-Mart considers this the price of capitalism. Wal-Mart preys on the local economy by offering low paying, low benefit jobs to the community which it has disrupted. For this, Wal-Mart has been continuously attacked for not paying overtime, sexual discrimination and the employment of illegal immigrants. In the same context, Wal-Mart remains union-free in each of its 3000 American stores. Workers quickly learned the cost of trying to unionize when in 2000, Jacksonville, Texas meat cutters voted in a union- only to have Wal-Mart start buying pre-cut meat eight days later.

Wal-Mart claims to be a consumer advocate, that is, your voice in demanding cheaper prices. While the argument could be made that Wal-Mart does achieve this, the question is at what cost. For are its consumers not the wife of man whose manufacturing job was shipped overseas, not the sister of a third-generation local business owner that had to shut down after 80 years of local ownership and is it not the daughter of a Wal-Mart employee that is paying a large percentage of his or her wages for health insurance?

In Wal-Mart becoming the world's largest retailer, success has bred arrogance- steadfastly displayed by its CEO, H. Lee Scott, Jr., in the CNN documentary. All too typical, and despite heavy litigation against his company, Scott denies every ounce of criticism directed toward his company- whether political, social, economical or cultural. In the interview, he even denied the message of a commercial that his company put out- even though it was an obvious response to recent social critiques. To not acknowledge Wal-Mart's impact on communities, American jobs, or its employees, erases any hint of creditability in anything he might expound on- even when he offers valid perspectives.

From the interview with Scott, it is obvious that Wal-Mart has no intention of changing who they are- which is both admirable and appalling. They will continue to invade communities, force manufactures overseas and fight any and all employee representation. Wal-Mart is judged, however, by the people- they are the ones that ultimately decide if a company does or doesn't succeed in their community. If you think Wal-Mart does more harm than good- then don't shop there, it is as simple as that.

For me, while I appreciate aspects of their business, it comes down to trust and, frankly, I think they would do just about anything to make a profit. I agree with Business Week, the company does have some cult-like aspects within it, and it does appear to be a propaganda machine. As an example, I believe disingenuous titles are always the foundation of deception; Wal-Mart calling its employees "associates," is like calling the Patriot Act, patriotic. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

31. Preamble not always true

The Constitution begins with the phrase "We the people," which upon current reflection would seem to be decisively inclusive of all people. As our history tells us, this certainly wasn't the case- especially pertaining to voting rights. Many of our forefathers felt that voting rights ought to be restricted in order to maintain stability. Thus, voting rights were both left to the states to decide and, in nearly all circumstances, extended only to white male property holders. This debate on voting rights, while in a sense is still an issue today, was certainly an issue through the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Thus, unbelievably, the greatest democracy in history maintained the disenfranchisement of women, African-Americans and other minorities for over 178 years.

The 2004 election will be remembered as the election in which Americans seemed to regain their spirit in democracy and exercised their privilege to vote. With voter turnout around 72%, candidates were forced to reach more and more voters. To disenfranchise one segment of the population could be costly for those bidding for election. No longer can candidates court the vote of the wealthy and influential, for as many have noted, each vote is worth exactly the same. I was particularly interested in the turnout of women and minority voters, for as I will detail, their right of suffrage was a long and arduous journey.

The right to vote for African-Americans began in 1857 with the Dred Scott decision, in which the Supreme Court ruled against citizenship for Negroes. After the Civil War, the thirteenth amendment was passed outlawing slavery, and subsequently in 1868, the fourteenth amendment was ratified- making all persons born in the United States citizens thereof. However neither, although inclusive of equal protection of rights, explicitly prohibited racial discrimination in voting. Finally in 1870, the fifteenth amendment was ratified, granting African-Americans the right to vote. However, alas, what should be the end of the story is only the beginning in the plight of African-Americans to exercise their right to vote.

Although not directly related to African-American suffrage, the case that set the tone for disenfranchisement, especially in the south, was Plessy v. Ferguson. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled protecting state-mandated segregation, which is infamously known as the "separate but equal" doctrine. While again this case had little to do with voting rights, (it is much more relevant in school segregation, until Brown v. Board of Education) it did set the tone for racial prejudices. For like the issue of school segregation, every right afforded to African-Americans was swiftly undermined by legal loopholes and technicalities, new laws, and even blatant disregard for the law.

Voting rights for African-Americans from the time of the fifteenth amendment until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a period of ninety-five years, was hindered through a number of deplorable tactics. African-Americans were met with not only social pressure against voting, but also threats of violence from organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan. Southern states ran "white primaries," in which white candidates were elected by white voters before the general election. African-Americans also faced poll taxes, literacy tests and property qualifications- all aimed at disqualifying otherwise eligible voters. So great was the disenfranchisement in the south that in 1965 only 29% of African-Americans were registered to vote. That year, Martin Luther King Jr. led the famous 50-mile march for voter registration in Dallas County, Alabama, where only 2% of the eligible African-Americans were registered.

The right for women's suffrage, in some ways, began at the time of the American Revolution when Abigail Adams, wife of future President John Adams, warned, "If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation." Unfortunately, this advice fell upon deaf ears for nearly 150 years until the nineteenth amendment was ratified in 1920 and the right to vote was no longer denied based on account of sex.

Women tried to argue for their right to vote, most notably under the fourteenth amendment and its equal protection of rights clause. The Supreme Court however ruled narrowly upon these rights as applicable to only federal laws and in Minor v. Happersett stated that the fourteenth amendment did not protect women's right to vote. The court ruled that women's suffrage was a state issue. One of the most famous petitioners for women's suffrage was Susan B Anthony, who in 1872 was arrested for voting. In 1890, Wyoming was the first state to allow women to vote, and by 1919, just prior to the nineteenth amendment, 30 states permitted women to vote.

Finally, in 1964 the twenty-fourth amendment was ratified which prohibited poll taxes after statistics showed that in states that had poll taxes, the voter turnout was 50% less than that of states that did not have a poll tax. And, as I have mentioned, in 1965, the Voting Rights Act was passed, ending discriminatory voter registration tests, such as literacy tests, and electoral redistricting. In addition, voter rights were now to be under federal supervision and subject to federal action.

In the 2004 election there were still incidents of alleged voter discrimination, through intimidation, such as the verification of police records or the purposeful underutilization of voting machines in African-American communities. However, voting rights have improved significantly from prior decades, and should continue to improve in the future. And through the enfranchisement of women and minorities, our Constitution now means as it reads, "We the people..."

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

30. Conscience creates rights

On the surface, many regard me as an animal rights activist. And although I might fit the common profile, I think this to be a misnomer. I think "rights activist" to be the wrong words, for I believe more than anything or anyone having "rights," they should have a fair chance. In a way, that is what "rights" is about as, for example, civil rights are the duty to give others a fair chance in life- whether it is employment or freedom from oppression. I haggle at the definition, both as it applies to animals and how it should be applied to humans- but maintain that there is a difference.

Population genetics as it applies to nature is the understanding that more things will be born than can possibly survive. Nature's state of equilibrium requires that a balance be created between prey, predator and environment. Populations test these parameters by, in most cases, producing more offspring than will survive (to reproductive age), based on the resources available, such as water, food, and breeding grounds. Understanding population genetics allows a certain degree of tolerance to nature's seemingly cruel system of survival of the fittest. By that I mean, even though the death of any animal is tough for me to deal with, I understand that is just the way it is. I note this because every time I mention my affection for animals, people immediately ask me if I am a vegetarian- and I am not. However, with that comes a bit of an asterisk because there are some foods I cannot eat, or have trouble eating. Furthermore, I would have an exceedingly difficult time hunting my own food, because even though I grew up on a small farm, I would have to be very hungry before I killed anything.

Noting as I have that animals living and dying as part of life, essentially being the energy transfer required for all life, I return to the issue of animal rights. As I said I believe this to be an issue of equal chance more than any ordained series of rights. So the question then becomes two: 1) As current titleholder of evolutionary design, do we owe anything to our conquered earthly co-inhabitants and, 2) What is to be considered an equal chance?

One could argue that since the evolutionary game is of the most adapt species "calling the shots" that we owe no pity on other species. Consider other species, does a wolf feel pity on a sheep; does it care for any other species than its own and perhaps that of its pack? Nature's rules are such that all individuals are destined to live, attempt to reproduce and die. For nearly all species, the game is passing on one's genes, not compassion. In this manner, we can argue that we are entitled to do whatever it takes to whomever- to best ensure our survival. Thus the raising of animals acts to best enhance our survival as a consistent food source, as does testing human cures on animals. With this understanding, what obligation do we own, if any, to other species? Should we say if one is born a cow, chicken or lab rat - too bad, sorry about your luck?

The problem with this argument is that humans have the ability to ask why the world is the way it is, to feel compassion, and to understand pain and death. And we can ask, for what human cause are we entitled to strip an animal of its chance to live, reproduce and die like every other living thing on this planet? I believe that animals, even those destined for human consumption, should have a life. They should be able to do whatever it is they do and live to a decent age before "humanly" suffering their fate. Often this does not happen. These animals often live and die in the most profitable manner, without regard for quality of life.

On the other hand, those animals fortunate enough to be born in the wild face numerous adversities. Without humans, their life is tough enough always having to look over their shoulders for a possible predator. Have you ever watched a deer eat in an open field? It's almost painful to watch as they react to the slightest environmental activity. Beyond their natural dangers, many animals live in the human world, in a habitat designed for human convenience. Granted, some species have adapted to thrive in this environment, but, for most, humans are but another obstacle in the quest to reproduce. Humans have thoroughly engaged in not only habitat destruction, but also resource depletion. Species are becoming extinct at a rate such that one-fifth of all species will be extinct in 30 years, and there is nothing worse than witnessing animals suffer as a result of human greed or development. How fitting is it that the new development on Oak Point is named Deerfield, perhaps mockingly after the habitat it destroyed. This is not giving animals a fair chance.

Neither is, by definition, lab rats, zoo animals or feeder mice. Humans have adapted a hierarchy for animals- deciding which are desirable and which are not. We have decided which lives we value such as dogs, cats, horses and those that we do not such as mice and rats. Animal abuse is illegal, but hunting is permitted? The issue is across a spectrum of values such animal testing for human cosmetics and killing for profit like furs and tusks. With our understanding of fear, pain and death, what right do we have to abuse an animal for fun or profit?

The compassion for animals that many others and I suffer from is a curse. As much as my wife and I would like to save every animal, we know we can't and we know it is not meant to be. As to the question of animal rights, I believe animals are to have a fair chance to live a decent life, to have the opportunity to compete against nature, and be free from human greed, development and cruelty.

Thursday, November 4, 2004

29. Change is slow and costly

Fredrick Douglas believed that without struggle there could be no progress. With this, let us never underestimate the power of ideas. Progress is the acceptance of change, the release of biases and prejudice, brought about first by ideology. Unfortunately, many have suffered for what they believed to be right, and out of necessity, for change would not have occurred otherwise.

History is full of those that fought for what they believed to be right, against some sort of authority and against some sort of establishment. The establishment becomes entrenched in their own ideas, and, most notably, their own interest. Those who presented unpopular ideas are criticized, labeled, harassed, and often murdered. It takes a while for a new idea to develop, to become accepted, because most resist change, and most don't want their beliefs challenged.

One of history's earliest sacrifices begins with the death of Socrates in 399 B.C.E. Studied now in universities across the globe as one of philosophy's greatest teachers, Socrates was sentenced to death for influencing the aristocratic young citizens of Athens. Through discussions on topics such as truth and justice, Socrates challenged the certainty of popular opinions and ancient steadfast ideas. The parents brought Socrates to trial where he was convicted of "corrupting the youth and interfering with the religion of the city." Socrates, in graceful spirit, accepted his fate, refused to sacrifice his principles, and drank hemlock with friends and disciples.

Galileo Galilei dared to challenge the notion that the earth was the center of the universe. At the time, this scientific breakthrough conflicted with the prevailing religious ideas and, inadvertently, sought to question man's significance in the universe. Pope Urban VIII censored his book (Dialogue) and referred Galileo to the Inquisition. After weeks of imprisonment and interrogation, Galileo plead guilty to an erroneous theory in order to receive a lesser sentence. He spent the rest of his life under house arrest for heresy. In 1992, the Catholic Church finally admitted to the errors made by the theological advisors in the case of Galileo Galilei.

Many civil rights leaders have suffered, first to end slavery, then toward equal rights. Martin Luther King, who practiced peaceful demonstrations, fought against poverty and for the right to vote. He spoke out against Vietnam and for the right of workers to organize. He led "marches" and "camp-ins." For his effort, because of his ideology that one day we could have a truly integrated society, he was assassinated. He was one of many that were murdered for his or her civil rights activism.

Still others have endured in order to have their ideas considered. Susan B. Anthony was arrested in her quest for women's suffrage. Henry David Thoreau spent a night in jail because he objected to his poll tax dollars being spent on the Mexican War and the enforcement of slavery laws. Millions have died for speaking out against their governments or defending their religions. They have been slaughtered, beheaded and hung for expressing their ideas or fighting for their cause. Millions have been arrested for protesting wars, demanding equal rights, as well as singular causes like protecting the environment or saving the rain forests.

It is called progress because usually, eventually, society gets things right. These men and women were ultimately right; it just took awhile for people to erase their prejudices, biases and fears. Where once tyranny ruled, democracy is preferred. Whereas once only a few believed in equal rights for minorities, now one is labeled a racist if he or she does not believe it. Most women are now educated and work, no longer is their "place" in the kitchen. We've come a long way in the last few hundred years but there is still a lot to accomplish. And that is sometimes the problem with a democracy; it takes a long time to change the minds of a majority whose beliefs are based on some sort of ancient philosophy. What progressive ideas of today will be readily accepted in the future?

Although this country, in my opinion, took a couple steps backwards in the recent election on a number of issues- society, I am confident, will continue to make progress. Progress will continue and someday people will welcome and understand some of the few issues that they have yet come to accept. And maybe, just maybe, someday a good idea will simply be reasoned, considered and accepted- without the struggle, or the sacrifice.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

28. Unbiased history not pretty

The events of history are often distorted by the perceptions and prejudices of those that write it. Sometimes it is an honest lack of perception; other times the reason is an influenced perspective, perhaps based on bias or personal interest. Either way, the truth is often slanted toward the opinion of the writer. Historian Howard Zinn writes, "The historian's distortion is more than technical, it is ideological; it is released into a world of contending interests, where any chosen emphasis supports some kind of interest, whether economic or racial or national or political."

There is probably no story of history more misrepresented, more glorified, than the one told of Christopher Columbus and the discovery of America. He has been aptly dubbed as "the most successful failure in history." Moreover, his character is one of utter ignominy. Could it be that through America's arrogance, or at least of those that wrote America's history, that a triumphant beginning needed to be created?

Following, in part, is the story as told in Howard Zinn's highly acclaimed, A People's History of the United States.

Knowing that the earth was round, Columbus set sail west in attempt to reach India and Asia- in search of gold and spices. Spain was recently unified and was in search of wealth. Its population was poor, with the top 2 percent owning 95 percent of the land. Spain sought an alternate route to Asia because the Turks had control of the land route, and the Portuguese were traveling south around Africa. Columbus's first mistake was the size of the earth, as it turned out to be some four times larger than he calculated. Had he traveled unimpeded toward Asia, his fate was certain disaster. Columbus was lucky that he sailed into the Americas.

On October 12, 1492, a sailor under the early morning moonlight first sighted land. Zinn notes, "The first person to sight land was supposed to get a yearly pension of 10,000 maravedis for life, but Rodrigo (the sailor) never got it. Columbus claimed he had seen a light the night before. He got the reward."

On the island, Columbus and his crew were greeted by the Arawaks, who were known "for their hospitality, their belief in sharing." Columbus had other ideas, he wrote, "As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts." Of course the "whatever" Columbus was searching for was gold, as his deal with the Spanish royalty was 10 percent of the profits.

In his return to Spain, Columbus met with the Court in Madrid to report on his expedition. He claimed to have reached Asia, which harbored "many wide rivers of which the majority contained gold." He asked the Spanish royalty for another voyage in which he promised "as much gold as they need...and as many slaves as they ask." What King or Queen could refuse a promise like that?

When Columbus returned to Haiti and couldn't fill his ships with his imaginary gold, he opted to fulfill his promise with slaves. Zinn again notes, "In the year 1495, they went on a great slave raid, rounded up fifteen hundred Arawak men, women and children, put them in pens guarded by Spaniards and dogs, then picked the best 500 specimens to load onto ships." Though two hundred died in route, it did not deter Columbus from proclaiming, "Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold."

However, because so many died in captivity, the pressure was on Columbus to fulfill the other half of his promise- gold. Now, back in Haiti, Arawaks were required to collect a certain amount of gold- for which they received a copper token to wear around their necks. Those found without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death. When the Arawaks resisted, they were hung or burned to death, leading to mass suicides to prevent capture by the Spaniards. Zinn writes, "In two years, through murder, mutilation, or suicide, half the 250,000 Indians in Haiti were dead. In essence, Zinn notes, "What Columbus did to the Arawaks of the Bahamas, Cortes did to the Aztecs of Mexico, Pizarro to the Incas of Peru, and the English settlers of Virginia and Massachusetts to the Powhatans and the Pequots."

Not exactly the story I was taught in school.

Unfortunately, much of the world's history is told from the perspectives of the governments, diplomats, and conquerors- the people who write the books and record the history. Often people like the Arawaks don't write books because they are uneducated, oppressed or too busy trying to survive. But we have to ask, what about their history, their side of the story? Because when their story is told, by the likes of Fredrick Douglas or Anne Frank, for example, it is often shocking and appalling. Christopher Columbus was, granted, a quality navigator, however he severely miscalculated his theory, then cheated, thieved and murdered- all in the name of fame and wealth.

America doesn't need this kind of glorious discovery, nor does it need to honor the likes of Christopher Columbus.

Thursday, September 2, 2004

27. Outsourcing isn't recent trend

With labor being the most expensive burden on a company trying to make a profit, it is easy to understand the attraction of obtaining the cheapest labor available. Americans often act as though the adoption of the questionable means by which corporations obtain cheap labor, in this case the outsourcing of jobs to third world countries, is a recent endeavor. For some current generations of Americans this may be, but the issue for companies and corporations is, and has always been, about finding ways to reduce costs and increase profits. And, in the wake of profits, ethical consideration and human decency rarely stand in the way.

Early in our history, rather than outsource jobs, America imported labor. The South was built on slave labor, which created huge profits for plantation owners. Slaves were bought and sold, barely fed, barely clothed, kept ignorant and harshly punished to preserve their value to the plantation owner. The Civil War was fought for financial preservation, as the South fought to preserve slave labor against those demanding humanity and civil rights.

During the industrial revolution, the focus again became cheap labor- this time through immigration. Companies benefited as those looking for a new start immigrated to America- more than willing to accept low paying jobs. Of course, as we know, companies began abusing their power by working employees long hours in unsafe factories for low pay. And again humanity issues surfaced and, subsequently, unions were developed to protect worker rights (or human rights- depending on how you look at it).

The outgrowth of unions and fairly paid workers led to the middle class, which seized the opportunity to invest money and start their own businesses- to delve into the American dream. However, capitalism, the economical game of Darwin's "survival of the fittest," suggests that only those that create a product for profit will survive.

As competition in the marketplace increases globally, the cost of American labor becomes a hindrance which, again, has companies looking for cheap labor. Since American companies can no longer import slave labor or count on cheap immigrant workers, they have begun chasing workers across the world. And since Europeans, who always seem to be one step ahead of Americans in cultural philosophies, have realized there is more to life than working and are unwilling to give up their four weeks of vacation (although this may be changing as well in the global marketplace), American companies have begun utilizing third world labor, such as child labor and sweatshops.

Corporations have, from the beginning, made it quite clear that pleasing their wealthy investors is more important than saving American jobs. Thus, in some ways, the capitalistic economy that once enabled American prosperity is now operating against it. In the 1840s, Karl Marx proposed, "The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie (modern capitalists, employers of wage labor) over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere." And for Americans it means, more jobs are lost, more homes are foreclosed, and that the disparity between the "haves" and the "have nots" will continue to increase.

Although the ethics described here (slave labor, immigrant labor, and sweatshops) and employed by corporations is nothing less than appalling and disgraceful, many will argue that management owes its investors nothing less than "whatever it takes" to meet quarterly earnings projections. And, unfortunately, as companies like Enron, Wal-Mart and Pfizer has demonstrated, there are many other ways, equally atrocious, to define, and practice, "whatever it takes."

Nevertheless, in MBA schools across the country, the obligation to the shareholders is pounded, over and over, into the heads of students. The impact on communities in which the decision has been made to close factories is not discussed. A part of every MBA program should include Michael Moore's first documentary, Roger & Me, in which Moore visually explores the suffering endured by the people of Flint, Michigan after General Motors picked up and left. If nothing else, the film would serve as an examination into the humanistic aspect of business- outside the financial statements. We need to at least ask, from a sociological perspective, at what point the obligation to the community exceeds the value afforded to wealthy investors. And we need to ask how many families can be left in ruin in the name of corporate greed. Marx asked the same question in his time, and wished " do away with the miserable character of this appropriation, under which the labour lives merely to increase capital and is allowed to live only insofar as the interest of the ruling class requires it."

I am not suggesting Marxism for America, rather the ideology that capitalism is not perfect, especially in its treatment of wage labor. Greed is not good; too many people get hurt.

26. Debate pits rights vs. religion

A passionate and controversial issue heating up the political airwaves at both the state and federal level is the issue of gay marriage. The proposed gay marriage amendment (to protect "traditional marriage") recently failed in the Senate, although the issue will undoubtedly be brought forth again in the future.

At the state level, petitions are being circulated to "preserve" marriage as a union between one man and one woman. In fact, I was greeted by such a campaigner recently at a local establishment. As I politely declined, I noted the irony of the individual collecting the signatures. This irony and the issue at hand is the subject of this column.

The controversial nature of this debate is complicated by the fact that those that differ in opinion argue on diverse philosophical fronts. Gays and Lesbians are asking for civil rights, that is, not to be discriminated based on their sexual preferences and their desire to commit to a life-long partner. In this manner, and for them, the fight is a civil rights issue. Those opposing gay marriage argue predominately on an ideological level. Predominately based in religion, these beliefs stem from The Bible and its monopolistic claim on morality. It's interesting that the arguments rarely cross disciplines. The political right steadfastly avoids the issue of civil rights while the liberals supporting gay marriage tend to tread cautiously around religion and The Bible.

I have previously described discrimination as "inflicting hardship on an individual based on attributes for which he or she has no control over." Understanding that sexual preference is genetic and not a choice, it is, by my definition, discrimination to withhold the many federal and state benefits to gay and lesbian couples that wish to make the same commitment to one another as heterosexual couples make.

The moral claims by those opposing gay marriage fail in the light of religious freedom. This country ensures religious freedom and thus any argument based on the ideology of a particular religious sect, even one in the majority, arrogantly ignores the rights of others to define their own morality. Secular humanists believe that moral principles are tested by their consequences. What negative consequences are to be suffered onto society by extending homosexuals the same marital rights afforded to every other American? Couldn't those in religious opposition concern themselves with their plight into heaven and allow others to "take their chances?"

Moreover, extracting morals from The Bible is a risky proposition across a spectrum of ideologies. And here, the assumption is that most protesting gay marriages do so based on a religious belief. Thus, in effect, the majority of those protesting will point to The Bible as the source of information outlining their moral opinions. And here is the irony of the petitioner at the local supermarket. The petitioner was an African-American female. If the irony isn't obvious, ask yourself if there are two groups of people in the country that has suffered through more discrimination than African Americans and women. And then ask yourself what was often the source of that discrimination.

The Bible describes the subordination due men of their wives, "{older women shall} ...train young women to love their husbands and children, to be sensible, chaste, domestic, kind and submissive to their husbands..." (Titus 2:4-5). It also describes the nature of slavery, "As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are round about you." (Leviticus 25:44).

In greater reflection, The Bible describes marriage, further to that of homosexuality, under a number of specific conditions. If marriage is defined in the Bible, and if it defines our morality, then let us be consistent. For "...whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery." (Matthew 5:32) and "Let them marry whom they think is best; only, they should marry within the family of the tribe of their father. (Numbers 36:6). Where are the proposed marital amendments forbidding the marriage of divorced women and across racial lines? It appears that discrimination is often supported through selected morality.

The arguments on the issue are greater than I presented here, however I believe the core argument to be civil rights versus religious ideology. I realize my arguments may be upsetting to some; but it must be fair to challenge the source of moral standards when it is inconsistent and promotes the same discriminatory ideas that have proved to be fallible in the past.

Furthermore, I just found it a bit ironic that an African-American woman, a member of two groups that had fought for so many years to attain her civil rights, would be taking part in the discrimination effort against others wishing theirs.

Thursday, July 1, 2004

25. Unions bad for bad bosses

I was somewhat disappointed to learn that at least one local employer's training program included a video on keeping unions out of the facility or shop. Apparently, the video is complete with reenactments on how to act if approached by a union representative. Now there is nothing illegal about informing employees on why the company thinks a union would be bad for their employees. But to be so forthright, and to include reenactments at a time when an employee is going through orientation, begs the questions: What are they afraid of or what are they trying to hide? Perhaps the company is just being proactive on an issue that it feels so strongly about. Or, more likely, the company is a family-owned private company that doesn't want to open its books to the union. In this manner, the company might be protecting the interests of its family members that layer the corporate level. Mid-size private companies, especially those with little local competition, often get away with doing whatever they please.

The employees are entitled to hear both sides and make their decision. They do have the right to unionize. And a vote on whether or not to unionize seems like democracy in action. The way to keep unions out of a facility or shop is to treat their employees fairly, listen to them and educate them on the benefits of not unionizing- not to hold their hand and teach them to "just say no"- as though the correct answer is always "no." If upon hire, employers don't trust their new employees to think for themselves, what are they ultimately saying about the people they just hired?

Unions protect the employee in the era of "employment at will," in which one can be fired for any reason whatsoever, fair or unfair, and without recourse (except obviously for protected classes that may be able to prove discrimination based upon age, race, etc.). Thus, harshly realized, companies are free and able to ruin your life at any time, for any reason. It is often misunderstood that employees have rights. Further, employees have many misconceptions as to what the labor laws actually say. Without a contract (or implied contract), employees are only entitled to unemployment benefits if they are terminated without just cause.

Union representatives do sometimes make promises that they can't keep because until a union is put into place, it has no ability to bargain. As an employee, the decision to consider a union, or to instigate one, is risky. Rumors spread fast, and even though one can't be legally fired for talking about unionizing, employees are vulnerable since companies don't always behave- especially when their profits might be at risk.

The case against a union stems from the fact that unions often protect only the "poorly performing" employees. They create a lengthy and time-consuming process toward termination- resources that could be offered to good employees in the form of wage increases or benefits. Employees often take advantage of the situation, aware of their protection, and the rules, to perform just well enough to prevent being fired. Besides being expensive and time consuming, it can also create an uncomfortable workplace environment- that is, an "us against them attitude."

Unions are entitled to review employer financials to negotiate fair wages. In a country in which the richest 10 percent own approximately 70 percent of the wealth, it is clear that profits are not trickling down to the employees. And unionized employees do, on the average, make more than non-unionized employees. At the same time, this often ties management's hand to reward their better employees, since increases are often predetermined. And since benefits and wage increases are often agreed upon in advance, the incentive for employees to go "above the call of duty" is often removed. Thus contrary to intended purposes, unions often protect the poor employees while holding back the good ones. Hence, good employees working for good companies should not want union, while poor employees working for bad companies should insist on one.

Ultimately unions establish a contract that binds employees and employers. Their terms are agreed upon and contracted so that the conditions are apparently clear and fair. There are many advantages and disadvantages of being unionized, and ultimately that decision should be left to the employees. The employer should stress the advantages of not being unionized and prove that fair treatment is possible without a union. However, I believe that it is demeaning and belittling to go so far as to reenact scenes instructing the employees on how to act if approached by a union. Fair treatment of employees should be the deterrence that keeps a union out, not propaganda and negative campaigning on how to "just say no."

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

24. We are free to disagree

Ever since September 11, 2001, I have received chain emails promoting American culture, value and ideology. The topics range from immigration and religion to war and language. Almost always pro-American, it adamantly demands that American culture be defined and defended. Its definition maintains that immigrants are no longer welcome; that non-Christian religions and the non-religious should "sit down and shut up." It seeks to present anti-war views as somehow anti-American. And that those that can't speak English need to either learn or get out. The worst promote racism, bash homosexuals, seek to boycott countries that think for themselves and some even defend prisoner torture. The emails are often well written, inspirational (to some) and full of examples. They usually end with the line, "If you agree, pass this email to all your friends. If you don't agree, delete."

I usually don't agree, at least with all the ideas suggested. And I usually do just delete it, for I am afforded the opportunity to present my opinions here. But it is interesting that they never invite dissent or conversation of the issues. A couple of times I have hit "reply all" and suggested alternate viewpoints- usually without reply.

The fundamental problem with most of these emails is the lack of knowledge plaguing this country in two areas: American history and the difference between civil rights and majority opinion. These emails and their ideas are fashionable because they usually present patriotic themes and popular opinion. Unfortunately, they are also filled with bias, prejudice and a lack of understanding of, in particular, the first amendment.

How soon most have forgotten that only a few generations prior did their great grandparents or great-great grandparents cross the Atlantic to chase their dreams- whether it was for religious freedom, financial opportunity or simply the chance to start over. How many of them were native to a tongue other than English? We all need to be reminded that the only true American culture is that of the Native Americans. Simply because our families immigrated generations ago should not give us the right to turn away all those who want to be Americans, whose only fault is being born a couple of generations too late.

I can understand how living in a democracy can muddle the difference between civil rights and majority rules. Often from the time of our childhood, differences are settled by taking a vote. And in most cases, this is quite the appropriate solution. This is a democracy and it works well up until the point in which it infringes on the rights afforded to individuals by the Constitution, and specifically, the first amendment. A majority decision does not, necessarily, constitute the right decision. If six out of seven children vote to beat up and take the money from the "rich kid," have they made the right decision according to the law and the rights of the "rich kid?"

The freedom of religion and the freedom of speech are two such rights protected by the Constitution unto individuals. They are protected regardless of how many people agree or disagree. Our founders went to great lengths to ensure this- "Give me liberty or give me death!" I have already spoken in previous columns on the subject of religion and the separation of church and state. Individuals have the right to believe or not to believe whatever they wish without the fear of discrimination and absent of a national religion that favors one over another.

The freedom of speech guarantees the right to speak-out in a public forum against the government and its policies. Those who spoke out against the war were exercising their free speech rights precisely as they were intended to be used. It is shameful that many sought to portray them as unpatriotic and censor their views. Patriotism is not agreeing with whatever the government endeavors, rather it is passionate and zealous loyalty. Those who care about the country have an obligation to express their opinions as to its best interests. Mindless obedience is not patriotic; we must always ask what is right, what are the consequences.? Imagine now if everyone would have just taken the President at his word.

Our national motto (in Latin, ponder the irony), e pluribus, unum, which means "of many, one," was born out of ethnic and cultural diversity. To me it means, out of many peoples, religions, ideas; one united country united and committed to the democratic experiment as outlined in the Constitution. Our forefathers rebelled against tyranny as they inspired and led revolution. They fought for freedom, for liberty- not for censorship, not for discrimination.

Finally, let us not forget the Statue of Liberty that for now more than a century has greeted newcomers to this country. Donated by the French people in 1884 commemorating the alliance between France and the United States during the American Revolution (more irony), it depicts a woman escaping the chains of tyranny, holding holding a burning torch of liberty. Inscribed in bronze at the base of the statue isis the sonnet "The New Colossus" by the American poet Emma Lazarus. It reads in part "... "Keep, ancient land, your storied pomp!" cries she With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost, to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Alas, from the emails I sometimes receive, some mightmay wish her bronze base inscription to instead read, "Accepting white, English-speaking Christian heterosexuals that will quietly conform to government crusades of economy and power. All others need not apply."

Thursday, June 24, 2004

23. Did 'Idol' expose racism?

Even though the idea did not originate in America; American Idol is truly American. Having ended its third season, American Idol has many of the elements of what makes America, well America. It can be a rags to riches story, demonstrating to what extent talented people can go unnoticed in this country simply because they do not have money or the right connections. It is about a diversity of judges each with their own style of evaluating talent, and the manner in which they communicate their evaluations. It is about underdogs, those so bad that their effort and spirits nonetheless wins our affection. It displays the inability of many to accept criticism and exemplifies the "me" generation that thinks the world revolves around them. More seriously, it identifies the racism still present in our society, and just as serious, the misinterpretation or misunderstanding of exactly what racism is. In the same manner, the nation witnessed tremendous local, regional and ethnic support. Finally, it brings to reality what it takes to be successful. For it takes more than just talent, and more than just deserving it. It takes personality, luck, charisma, and skillfully weaving through the political web that infiltrates any competition.

Any of these elements could warrant an entire essay on their discussion; however I would like to focus on the controversial fan voting that plagued the competition from time to time. I could truncate the essay by noting that we elected George Bush, thus our expectations of the voting public shouldn't be too high- but that is both the easy way out and untrue (if you remember, Bush lost the popular vote). However, it does demonstrate that a lot of factors go into any type of competition decided by a vote (or evaluation), whether it is a presidential election, Olympic figure skating or student council.

Race is a factor, similar to many other factors that could swing a vote one way or another. People are drawn to individuals for a variety of reasons, depending on both the type of competition and the position people are competing for. For example, if I am selecting a council member, I may vote for the most accomplished, most educated, or the one that best represents my values. However, on American Idol, in which the winner will have little or no impact on my life, I might swing my vote to the hard luck story, the single mom, or the least attractive. Conversely, I might vote for the cutest, or the one that sings the kind of music I enjoy the best. Is this right; is this in the spirit of the competition? Not really, for I guess in the perfect world people would set aside all of these "outside" factors and vote for the most talented. But, to many, this is a vote of entertainment, not a job interview. Thus, the question becomes, whether or not if one votes for the cute Caucasian who sings country music over a more talented African-American singer (or vice versa), is he or she guilty of racism? I would answer "yes" and "no."

Since the concept of the show is to select the next American Idol, many could argue by definition. "American Idol" could mean not necessarily the most talented, but the one you would be willing to pay to see (believe it or not, many would be willing to pay to see William Hung). In this way, those who voted for the girl with pink hair may not be guilty of racism, rather basing their vote simply on preference.

Taking the issue further, it is sometimes difficult to differentiate between racism and supporting those of a similar background. In this manner, the Hawaiians that voted for the young lady from Hawaii may have been doing so out of support for her and their cultural background, not conscious racism. It is hard to accuse them of racism just as it would be difficult to accuse African-Americans of reverse racism for not voting for Clay Aiken last season.

Because of these factors, it might be too easy to immediately cite racism as the reason that more talented African-Americans were voted off before other less talented performers. And therefore, in the voting out of "preference" or other factors, assuming that a majority of African-Americans voted for African-Americans and others did not, it makes statistical sense at certain points in the competition that the African-American vote would be spread too thin among the three African-American performers- making them vulnerable.

I think for it to be accurately defined as racism, there has to be a conscious (or subconscious) effort to discriminate against a person because of his or her race. Did racism occur- absolutely, and it is pathetic. There has never been a place for it in the history of humanity. Moreover, many individuals may have subconsciously used their "preferences" as a mechanism to conceal their inherent preferences to individuals of their own race and defy their obligation to vote for the most talented performer. This too is probably racism. I believe the spirit of the competition is born out of selecting the most talented performer, regardless of superficial features and preferences. And, thus, in this competition, those who understood the competition as the selection of the most talented performer, and voted for anyone other than, probably did so in the midst of some sort of discrimination- despite their preferential, definitional, cultural and subsequent statistical defenses.

22. Growth must slow down

First read in 1969 to a group of students at the University of Colorado, the message still applies today:

"The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability
to understand the exponential function."

There are approximately six billion, four hundred and fifty-three million, three hundred and twenty-five thousand, five hundred and sixty-two human beings on planet Earth. That's 6,453,325,562, and counting. And that is counting at a net rate of 3 persons every couple of seconds.

Each one of these 6.4 billion persons would, ideally, like to have 2-3 children, a house, three square meals a day, a car with gasoline, fresh drinking water, fresh air and, of course, someone to take away their garbage once a week. This "life-style" is prominently an American life-style and increasingly the envy of most of the world. Shamefully, the United States contains only 5 percent of the world population yet consumes 22 percent of the world's energy.

These global numbers and national expectations drain natural resources and prompt discussions of rights versus values. The rights, of course, are that of the individual (or of parents) to have as many children as they like. For many might ask, what right does anyone have to tell individuals how many children they should have? Apparently none, because even though some governments might offer financial incentives for families limiting the number of children into the world, no government that I know of actually imposes a limit. On the other side of the issue, some religions and countries actually promote, or have promoted, large families, "Go forth and multiply," meaning, of course, that there is strength in numbers.

These rights are balanced, or should be balanced, with the environmental concerns of overpopulation, such as the depletion of the earth's natural resources, quality of life and famine. Every person, depending where they are born, is a considerable drain on the earth's natural resources. In addition to oil, natural gas and coal, these resources include many things we take for granted such as water, land, soil and biota.

As countries develop and continue to populate, competition for these resources will grow in intensity and military victories to protect our interests may not come so easy. As researcher David Cleveland notes, " We (United States) need to consider what extent our "life style" depends on access to resources, waste facilities and cheap labor in other places." and that this dependence may be "contributing to the creation of countries with nothing left to loose." It is becoming increasingly difficult to defend the actions of the American government and large corporations that take advantage of the rest of the world for their own profit and to protect the American life-style.

Population estimates differ but some predict it doubling before leveling out. Can the Earth sustain 12 billion people on a social, economical and natural level? As resources dry up, are Americans willing to continue to fight to protect their life styles? And, will the rest of the world just stand by while we exhaust more than our fair share?

Exponential theory is the realization that things add up faster than one might realize or expect. Such is the idea of recycling and conservation- for every aluminum can recycled is one less in a landfill and every car pool is natural resources conserved. If every American recycled one aluminum can per day, approximately 106 billion cans would be recycled per year. Every little bit does matter, and it may be your grandchildren that thank you.

The argument against overpopulation and conservation is that other resources will be discovered, that they are in a sense unlimited. Similar to Pascal's wager, there are two possibilities and two consequences (and four outcomes). Essentially, if we choose conservation and subsequent generations find resources to be infinite then no harm has been done. However, if we continue to be wasteful and future generations find that resources are indeed finite then we have left them in considerable distress.

Seventh Generation was a local environmental group named after The Great Law of the Iroquois Confederation and their commitment to preserve the land for the next seven generations. It reads, "In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations." Seventh Generation engaged in local beautification projects, led participation in environmental events like Earth Day and studied local resources such as the Black River. But alas, most of us realize that natural resources will survive our lifetime, hop into our sport utility vehicle and never give it another thought. To that end, Seventh Generation ceased operations in 2000.

As for rights versus values, it is still our decision. A decision hopefully based on our ability to think exponentially and its impact on the next seven generations

Thursday, June 17, 2004

21. You're a grand old flag

"Resolved, That the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternating red and white, that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation." And so the Continental Congress passed the first flag act on June 14, 1777. As to who designed or made the first flag, nobody is absolutely certain but the names Francis Hopkinson and Betsy Ross respectively, are credited, even if only through legend. While there is no record as to why red, white and blue were selected, in 1782 congress of the Confederation defined red for hardiness and courage, white for purity and innocence and blue for vigilance, perseverance and justice.

The celebration of Flag Day is said to have begun on June 14, 1885. A schoolteacher in Fredonia, Wisconsin named B.J. Cigrand gathered his students to celebrate the 108th anniversary of the official adoption of our flag. Amidst the publicity and Cigrand's continued promotion, the idea spread to New York and Philadelphia. After years of state and local celebrations, President Woodrow Wilson officially established Flag Day in 1916. Finally, on August 3, 1949, President Truman signed an Act of Congress designating June 14 as National Flag Day.

Flags, of course, are symbols- symbols that represent the history, cultural values, and governmental structure of a country. Symbols, and the ideas they represent, can be very powerful- capable of invoking feelings of happiness, fear or sadness. Consider several other powerful symbols- the hammer and sickle, the peace symbol or the Christian crucifix. How meaningful and personally significant are these symbols, what emotions do they generate?

When the United States won independence from England, it also won the right to create its own history, define its own cultural values and form its own government. It also won the right to create its own flag, and to develop its own symbol- one of meaning and emotion. What emotions are present upon viewing our America Flag? It was born out of the proclamation of inalienable rights- Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Our individual rights include the freedom of speech (whose spirit of creation was to discuss political thought without retribution), freedom of religion (the right for all Americas to privately worship any religion of their choosing) and the right to bear arms (to protect itself from governmental unruliness.) America also gave rise to diversity, democracy and capitalism. America's democratic system is the envy of most countries and its system of capitalism has made it the super power it is today.

Today, in times of war and terrorism; times of uncertainty and difficult decisions- let us be reminded and remember the flag as it spoke to Franklin K. Lane in 1914, "I am what you make of me; nothing more. I swing before your eyes as a bright gleam of color, a symbol of yourself."

Thursday, June 3, 2004

20. Collgeges are transforming

Higher education is changing. The manner in which it is being offered, the expectations of students, professors and potential employers, and the diversity for which an education is accessible have all undergone considerable change the last decade or so. Some of these changes are impressively innovated, offering a college education to individuals previously excluded from the traditional university setting. On the other hand, some changes have shortchanged the value and experience that an advanced degree is supposed to represent.

A college education is intended to prepare one for the career of his or her choosing. This is accomplished, not only through knowledge, but also by enduring and showing tenacity through the process. College is designed to test both what you have learned and your resolve to achieve set goals. A degree may dictate your area of study, but it also demonstrates the investment in yourself.

Make no mistake about it, college is not for everyone, nor was it ever intended to be for everyone. If one can achieve his or her goals without college, then college is a burden that need not be suffered. Many careers do not require college, whether it is because of other specialized training or the nature of the job itself. It is not that college would not benefit everyone, but rather that some careers do not require it.

However, as the job economy has changed, a college education has become more and more important. Well paying factory jobs are not as easily obtainable, nor are they secure for the lifetime of the employee. In addition, as evident by the hoards of college graduates that are willing to accept factory positions- especially for companies like Ford which offers reasonable security, excellent benefits and fair wages- competition is tougher than ever. As these jobs are lost, they are often replaced by low paying, service jobs with little or no benefits. As anyone that was one of 3.2 million workers that lost their jobs over the last three years can emphasize, it is tough out there- degree or no degree.

Colleges have capitalized on this economic state by making college available to as many students as possible. Student loans, flexible scheduling (evenings, weekends), alternate methods (on-line, television), and low cost community colleges have all aided in making college accessible to non-traditional students. Those individuals that may have not considered college right out of high school, for whatever reason, have an opportunity to go back to school to further or change their careers. Those that previously couldn't afford a college education can now find programs, through community colleges, student loans and evenings classes, which are financially manageable.

However, a negative residue outcome of this economic state is the competition for students. It is still a business, and obviously, colleges make money by enrolling students. I fear that this level of marketing and accommodation may lead to a "watering-down" of the educational and disciplinary aspect of the journey towards a college degree. Simply stated, college is supposed to be difficult.

One must remember that any holding is only worth what someone will pay for it. If someone owns an antique lamp that is said to be worth $5,000, but the most anyone is willing to pay is $4,000, then in reality, it is only worth $4,000. The same is true with any degree. Because Harvard has such tough admission standards, a good reputation and requires a large investment in one's self (both in time and money), a degree from Harvard is worth more on the market than a comparable degree from, say, Southwest Texas State University. As some colleges lower their standards to admit and graduate more and more students, it is important that this is remembered.

Degree programs have diversified across a spectrum of alternatives, some of which I feel are not testing the true commitment and determination of their students. On-line courses offer many advantages to the traditional classroom setting. Some even exceed the value of a classroom (the professors can be pooled from across the country, for example). However, some on-line courses never require the students to test in person- thus the professor and school never really know who is doing the work. For example, MBAs can earn their degrees completely on-line. One MBA graduate I spoke with said the only time she ever stepped foot on campus was to receive her degree.

Another factor being marketed by colleges is how fast one can receive his or her degree. Colleges now advertise bachelor degrees that can be earned in as little as thirteen months. Of course there are catches, but the point is that they are seeking to serve the interest of the "immediate gratification" generation. Fearing that students might be unwilling to make a four-year commitment and realizing that many people want the greatest return for the least amount of effort, colleges have both accommodated the needs of the students and undermined the value of the journey.

Finally, and I hate to criticize teachers, but some teachers, especially part-time adjunct facility, are simply too nice. For them, they are there because they like to teach and to earn some extra money. But, too often, they cave into the pressure of students that consistently complain of the work assigned. Although a generalization, I have found a large degree of difference in the commitment required of students from full-time professors and part-time evening instructors. While the truth is that an education is only worth what the student puts into it- it is still the duty of the instructor to challenge his or her students and to ensure that future employers are getting individuals that have worked hard in earning their degrees.

The changing nature of a college education has both positives and potential negatives. However, ultimately, if employers ever begin to feel that graduates of any particular school, program, or teaching method is questionable, then those who received those degrees will have wasted their time and money- at least in terms of market value. And, if an employee enters the workplace feeling unprepared, then shame on both the school and those professors that did not demand more of their students.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

19. Evolution still not only theory

The Ohio School Board, in early February, voted to include ideas about "Intelligent Design" in science lesson plans. The issue is a both a passionate and sensitive one, and in its discussion I will attempt to tread cautiously, and with a great deal of sensitivity. And before I go any further, it is important to note that a belief in God and whether or not "Intelligent Design" should be taught in science classes can be, in fact, mutually exclusive. Thus, a campaign against teaching "Intelligent Design" in the classroom is not a campaign against God. Before continuing, I hope that point is clear.

The most important idea surrounding the issue is the fact that "Intelligent Design" is not a scientific theory or principle. Let me write that again, slowly, so that the Ohio School Board might be better able to understand. "Intelligent (that's not insensitivity, that's sarcasm). "Intelligent Design" is the idea that life was too complex to have evolved on its own, that is, without a "guiding hand" (i.e. God). Fair enough, evolution is a very complicated process and one needs to understand an array of scientific disciplines to fully appreciate it. Biochemistry, genetics, paleontology, mammalian anatomy, embryology and microbiology, to name a few, either play a part in its processes or are a part of its understanding. Physics, chemistry, geology and biology, without exception, tell the same story of life on this planet- the story of evolution. Evolution is the most tested of all scientific theories. And that is the major problem with "Intelligent Design." It makes no predictions and, therefore, it is not testable. Science is built upon the scientific method, and thus if it cannot be tested- it cannot be science. It doesn't mean the idea is a bad one, it just means that it is not science. The Ohio Board recommends that students use outside resources to study "Intelligent Design." Here's the catch, there are no scientific journals offering research on the subject. The only mention one will find in scientific literature is the debunking of the idea as scientific.

Another problem of "Intelligent Design" is the fact that we are not all that "well designed." The bipedal gait is extremely inefficient, and is the source of many other problems such as bad backs, hernias and a cumbersome birth canal. For most, eyesight is aided soon after, if not before, reproductive age. Comparative mammalian anatomy suggests that humans endure large amounts of inefficiency in exchange for big brains and an upright posture. Furthermore, embryology notes gill slits and tails very early in our development. And as a defining proof, our genes match those of the chimpanzee more closely than a horse does a donkey. Evidence overwhelmingly suggests that we were evolutionarily designed.

If "Intelligent Design" is not science, and not really even properly named, how then has it made it into the classroom? There are a couple of reasons. The fight for some is about being fair, presenting two ways in which humans came to inhabit the earth. Those with religious views that might be in conflict with evolution, of course, are the ones bringing this issue forth. I could fairly ask, however, if alternative views of religion or science are presented on Sundays in church. Does the preacher present the Christian view on a subject, and then offer the corresponding Muslim view? Why not? Is this not fairer than the proposed equity in science classes, for both at least are religious teachings?

The second reason is the push by conservatives in the never-ending assault on the separation of church and state. Make no mistake about it; "Intelligent Design" is a religious theory- religious in the sense that someone has to have faith in what they are being taught. By opening the door to "Intelligent Design," conservatives have successfully snuck creationism into the classroom. I must admit; I admire their tenacity. The truth is that the money and power is on the side of the conservatives, and that only the Constitution stands in the way of their plight. But the question is: Why does this never-ending battle with conservatives exist? The church has the attention of children, from age 5 to 18 and sometimes two to three times a week, to present its ideas. The theory of evolution must be a powerful one if the church feels that a child can be persuaded to change his or her life perspective in only a couple of weeks of high school biology.

The inclusion of "Intelligent Design" in high school classrooms demonstrates a lack of knowledge of the idea presented, in the scientific method and the reason for the separation of church and state. The idea has been successfully muddled in the waters of equality and religion, two streams of thought that has rarely, if ever before, flowed together in the sea of religious tradition. That a state school board of professional educators might be fooled into an alternate idea, or cave under political pressure, is not anything less than embarrassing. For it now appears that Ohio has joined Kansas as the joke of the scientific community.

Thursday, April 8, 2004

18. Money is ruining baseball

It is nearly ten years now since major league baseball players decided that their million dollar salaries weren't enough and went on strike (1994 average salary was $1.18 million). And still ten years later, though narrowly avoiding another work stoppage, things have not gotten any better for the fans. There is still no accountability, no drug testing to speak of, and, worst of all- baseball is still without a salary cap. ESPN recently put the Yankees on trial for ruining baseball, of this, let there be no doubt.

Baseball is truly becoming America's game, but only in its worst sense. As the wealthy control corporate and political America, they also control America's pastime. It no longer matters what is fair or right, only what is profitable. The distribution of wealth is as it is in society. The poor can make it to the top, but they have to be perfect, as well as the beneficiary of a couple of breaks along the way. It is akin to giving one construction company a million dollars, another fifty thousand- and then holding a contest to see which company builds a nicer house.

To be a fan of the Yankees is to support all that is wrong with society, for they are proof that money can buy just about anything. It also exemplifies to what extent people will sacrifice fairness and principle to be a part of a perceived winner. The payroll for the New York Yankees this season is $184 million, the Cleveland Indians, $34 million. The Boston Red Sox, with the second highest payroll, is nearly $60 million behind that of the Yankees. I wonder what fun it is to be a Yankees fan, for it is like someone bragging about a new car after he or she has won the lottery. Congratulations, but we are not impressed.

Moreover, the fans are being oppressed by the game's greed, as they are brainwashed into supporting a game that no longer cares what its customers want. The fans should be so lucky that Major League Baseball and its players would grace us with their presence. Two years ago when the all-star game ended in a tie after eleven innings, primarily because pitchers have become unwilling to risk injury in the game, Lance Berkman was quoted as saying, "We played eleven innings, what else do the fans want?" Sorry, Lance, we were under the impression that baseball games usually end up with a winner and a loser. As for what we want, well, I want you to spend six months in a foundry at $8.00 an hour, and then to see how fast you run out onto the field to play extra innings.

The arrogance of the players is further exhibited in their demand for special treatment. The union, which has to be one of the most powerful in the world, feels that its players should not be held accountable to the standards of society. They believe that drug testing is an invasion of their privacy and feel no shame in the obvious cheating that occurs from it. At this point, it may take no less than an act of congress to hold them accountable.

Last season when a fan ran onto the field and assaulted a coach, baseball screamed for more security- a request that was quite understandable. What is not understandable is that they wanted more severe punishments for fans that assault players and coaches. When did they become royalty? How egotistical of baseball to think that an assault on one of their players is somehow a greater offense than an assault committed against any other human being.

The problem is that the fans, which are still the customers, have the power, but make little use of it. If the fans want a salary cap, if they want drug testing- it's simple, stop going to games, stop watching games, stop supporting advertisers and stop buying major league apparel. Attendance did drop almost 20 percent in 1995, but that is not enough. How foolish that everyone, except those fans in the major markets, complains but does little about it.

How did Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. ensure that African-Americans could sit anywhere they pleased on the bus? What voice do the wealthy hear other than the sound of an economic strike?

Thursday, March 11, 2004

17. Now they admit dangers

"Phillip Morris USA agrees with the overwhelming medical and scientific consensus that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and other serious diseases in smokers," is the first sentence in the health section of Phillip Morris' website regarding "Cigarette Smoking and Diseases in Smokers." Although this is nothing new, the Surgeon General notice has been on packs for years, it is interesting from a number of perspectives. Of first note, is the admission of Phillip Morris that their product does indeed cause harm to its consumers. Elsewhere in its website, Phillip Morris makes nearly the same statement concerning addiction, "Phillip Morris USA agrees with the overwhelming medical and scientific consensus that cigarette smoking is addictive." Thus, of second note is a company that admits its product is harmful and addictive. Of course, the debate of this admission has been a historic struggle, for, understandably, Phillip Morris and other cigarette manufactures were not in any hurry to make such admissions.

The battle of its customers has been equally as historic, as smokers were reluctant to accept the harm of cigarettes; then quick to sue over its addictiveness. If there was ever a doubt, all anyone had to do was consult the life insurance companies- for the most important information in their analysis is: smoker/nonsmoker. Most consumers have given in to acknowledging the health dangers, although I do still occasionally hear the argument, "Aunt Mary lived to 108 and smoked three packs a day." The lawsuits that were to follow were justified, especially if companies held in confidence the addictive nature of nicotine.

Further on the Phillip Morris website is a section on "Responsible Marketing." With a product that is addictive and harmful, could there be such a thing as responsible marketing? In fact, their mission statement claims, "Our goal is to be the most responsible, effective and respected developer, manufacture and marketer of consumer products, especially products intended for adults." It is easy for me to say as a nonsmoker, but the only responsible action might be to go out of business- for is there a responsible way to market and sell an addictive and harmful product? The more responsible mission statement might read, "We at Phillip Morris apologize for the emotional and physical trauma placed on the lives of our customers due to the harmful and addictive nature of our product. We will continue to serve our customers only as long as it takes to rid them of this addictive habit, or until death ensues- whichever comes first."

The remaining issue concerning cigarette smoking is that of second hand smoke and smoking in public areas. Again, I can reference the Phillip Morris website. Although not as adamant, Phillip Morris states, "Public health officials have concluded that secondhand smoke from cigarettes causes disease, including lung and heart disease, in nonsmoking adults, as well as causes conditions in children such as asthma..." And, furthermore, that, "We also believe that the conclusions of public health officials concerning secondhand smoke are sufficient to warrant measures that regulate smoking in public places." Here, perhaps, the battle lines have been drawn as consumers fight for their right to smoke against the rights of those seeking to escape the dangers of secondhand smoke.

From a societal perspective, the issue is that Phillip Morris admits that not only is their product harmful and addictive to their customers, but also to anyone who comes in contact with it. The ethical issue examines the conscience of the company and its employees- that is, the production of a product that is so knowingly harmful. American philosopher, Henry David Thoreau, wrote, "It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience." That may be true enough, but the business conscience of today is not of right and wrong, rather it is of profit and loss.

I am well aware that people want Phillip Morris to continue to make their product, and dare not suggest that cigarettes be deemed illegal. But it is interesting to note, in today's health and safety conscious world, that a company could continue to produce a harmful product, market a harmful product, employ employees to make a harmful product, steadfastly inform the public of the dangers of their product and still thrive as an entity.

Thursday, March 4, 2004

16. Wahoo story is propaganda

Baseball is just around the corner, accompanied by the annual debate over Chief Wahoo. Each opening day brings protesters, who, more often than not, are met with a lack of respect and understanding.

So among the fastballs and hotdogs, the issue increases in intensity heating the debate over whether Chief Wahoo balances in favor of honor or racism.

Over time, and in the spirit of open-mindedness, I have changed my viewpoint on the subject - so much that I can't believe I ever though otherwise. For many, the issue entertains only superficial thought - especially if one grew up rooting for the team. In addition, it is easy to offer justification for the use of the name and mascot as a measure of honor, a point I will argue against in this column.

To begin, the discussion requires a brief history.

The Cleveland Naps in 1915 changes their name to the Cleveland Indians to, allegedly, pay homage to Louis Sockalexis, one of the first Native-Americans to play professional baseball. The honorary "mascot" consisted of an orange-faced Indian with a large nose and big teeth. Through the years, the image has undergone several changes leading to the current version of Chief Wahoo.

Since 1972, several American Indians groups have protested the use of Chief Wahoo as a mascot, including the American Indian Movement (AIM) who picketed Jacobs Field in 1994.

The most persistent argument offered by the team and its supporters is that the name change and the creation of the logo were done to honor Louis Sockalexis, an honor that, notably, he did not live long enough to receive.

There are a few problems with this account of what seems to be nothing more than propaganda, that is, a story created to silence the protests of the majority. Louis Sockalexis only played three seasons with the Indians (1897-1899), amidst racial slurs and ridicule, before prematurely ending his career after he suffered a knee injury when, while intoxicated, he jumped from a second story building.

While he was exploited as an American Indian when he played, his accomplishments and legacy (until now) was neither extraordinary nor memorable.

In 1915, a "nomenclature committee" made up of baseball writers had been selected to choose the name of the now "Napless-Naps." The Cleveland Press did run an article soliciting new nicknames.

However, the results of this solicitation subsequently listed in the paper did not include Indians. Furthermore, the articles in the local papers announcing the new team name neither mention Louis Sockalexis nor assert that the name was even permanent. Thus, the account that the name came from a fan "in honor of Louis Sockalexis" is most likely both erroneous and improbable.

Even if the name was intended to honor Louis Sockalexis, there is a difference between original intention and current perception. Mascots are typically animals of ferocity, or admiration, not races of people.

Furthermore, they should not be conquered people, whose land was invaded, whose families were butchered. What honor could possibly be realized as they are caricaturized and ridiculed (e.g. white people dressing up like Indians, a fake teepee in the stands)?

Let us further note that the wearing of eagle feathers, religious changing, and dancing were sacred to the Indians and their way of life. The depiction of our views in respect to the history and treatment of Indians has been consistently less than honorary.

Imagine other races so insensitively exploited. Could one suggest another race that would tolerate its worst caricature plastered on a baseball hat? Or its sacred culture stereotypically imitates and ridiculed? The point could be better made with examples, though the idea is so offensive that I dare not offer them.

Finally, the idea that early 1900 America would honor the first Native-American to play baseball, by naming a team after him, is preposterous, especially considering that baseball was 30 years away from allowing the first African-American to even step on the diamond.

Therefore it seems that, as sport sociologist Ellen Staurowsky aptly reasons, "Through the manipulation of selected information, the franchise uses a partially fictionalized "Indian" past for purposes of silencing the protests of real Indians in the present. As a consequence, the majority are empowered to reject the notion that the ball club's name and logo are racist while ignoring protests from some Native-Americans and their allies."

If the Cleveland baseball team wants to recognize Louis Sockalezis, they should build a sculpture in his likeness, or retire his number. If they want to honor the Native-Americans, they should consider a new nickname and a new mascot, for, alas, a new peace treaty is probably out of the question.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

15. Winter survival no sweat

On a recent trip outside to feed the birds and the deer, as I slowly plowed through the snow, my bones froze as the brisk cold of January ripped right through me.

I could even see my dogs, which joined me on this quick endeavor, shaking, as their once adaptively sufficient winter coat now failed to provide adequate protection. "The poor animals," my wife always says. To which, I usually reply "Well, they have adapted to these conditions; I doubt they know the difference."

This, of course, is my standard line to reassure the both of us - fully understanding the hardship these animals face.

I quite enjoy feeding the animals; sometimes watching families of deer warm their bodies with our offering of "free" corn. Birds of several species, cardinals, blue jays, finches, doves and even crows, visit our feeders 24 hours a day - consuming the energy required to battle the harsh weather conditions. It is amazing how just a few minutes in the cold can both make you appreciate the progress made by our species and turn your stomach as to how spoiled we have become.

In a blink of an eye, relatively speaking, or namely, a few thousand years, our species fears little of harsh winter conditions other than the inconvenience of shoveling the driveway, cleaning off the car, and leaving a few minutes early for work.

Just a few short years ago, our species battled winters like all other species. We faced the challenges of shelter, hunger and disease. A December trip to Hocking Hills included a visit to the famous caves that surely provided shelter to ancient humans.

An eerie feeling overcame me as we battled the cold for only a couple hours through the natural heat of the campfire. What these people must have gone through, I thought. Moreover, how lucky they were to have found such a cave. Undoubtedly, many others did not have it so well.

Just hundreds of years ago, when the European settlers invaded this land, surviving the winter was an accomplishment for all those that did. There were no guarantees. American settlers often remarked on the winter conditions and how many did or did not survive.

Technology had advanced to include cabins and fireplaces but times were still tough. Travel could be difficult, even impossible. People worked hard and died young.

It is sad then that so much has been forgotten. And how much of what we have today is taken for granted. Families used to raise their own animals, grow their own crops. Kids worked the farm, families worked together, and our communities cared about one another.

How many of us today could survive those conditions of a couple hundred years ago, or even more difficult, of a couple thousand years ago? Daily "to do" lists included staying warm, finding food, protecting the children and living to see tomorrow.

The success of our ancestors made things what they are for us today. They worked hard, obtained and shared knowledge, and, most importantly, they survived. Compare their lives with ours today. Consider the leisure time we have. The time we have to choose between "American Idol" and "The Bachelorette."

And the time we have to care whether or not Brittany got married, or if Ben and Jennifer broke up. We have the luxury of passing up hard work because we can pay someone else to do it. We also have the audacity to pass up the opportunity for knowledge, because, it too, is too much work.

Today we worry about our diets, if we get enough calcium; our ancestors were just happy to eat. We get dressed up to go hunting, and hang the heads of our victims on walls as trophies- our ancestors hunted to survive; there was no time for gloating. How lucky we are today that 40 hours a week pays our way through life, considering that our ancestors put in 24/7.

Perhaps we can never completely understand the trials and tribulations that our ancestors may have endured. Maybe I'm wrong; maybe it wasn't that difficult. But at least consider what it might have been like hundreds or thousands of years ago. Step outside one cold dark night, walk into a forest or an open field and ask yourself- could I have survived?

Thursday, February 5, 2004

14. I think, therefore I am, I think

Rene Descartes, considered the first modern philosopher, coined the popular phrase, "Cogito ergo sum," which means, "I think therefore I am." Literally taken, it is a restatement of the obvious. However, from a philosophical standpoint, it was a bit of a breakthrough. In search of reality, it was an "indubitable first principle." The definition of reality extends in many directions, and under many circumstances. Easy examples are dreams and mirages- periods of imagery that upon further investigation (waking up or moving closer) we discover, with a fair amount of certainty, to be illusions. Attempting to define reality in the holistic realm serves to question what most of us take for granted. For example, pick any thing or place that you have not witnessed first hand- say the country of Iraq. To question what we absolutely know or don't know to be true- one could argue that the country of Iraq does not exist. Taking the example to extreme, one could argue that although you hear about Iraq, know of countries that fight wars against Iraq, and see pictures of Iraq- that Iraq does not really exist. Perhaps the whole world is in conspiracy against you to make you believe that Iraq exist when, in fact, it does not. This argument, on a theoretical level, can be taken even further to question even the things one has, or believes to have, experienced. Hence, the existence of everything can be doubted. Conversely, the phrase, "I think therefore I am," proves that although everything can be questioned to exist, there can be no doubt that someone (or thing) is doing the doubting. Perhaps the more accurate proof would be "I am capable of doubting, therefore I exist."

Our perception of reality is a fragile entity when one considers the effects of aging, drugs and injury onto the brain. There can be, at times and even among the unimpaired, a thin line separating what we perceive to be true and what, in fact, is true. One philosopher describes our perception of reality as "the show between our ears," and as unfortunate as it is, one can duly note that some of us the channel has been changed. Some choose this altered state of reality through drug use, escaping, at least for a while, the pain of the "reality." Many individuals, however, have altered states of perception forced upon them- usually through the effects of aging or genetics. Alzheimer's disease and Schizophrenia are the more serious thought disorders that alter states of reality. Both have its roots in genetics, with Alzheimer's disease increasing in severity with age.

Considering the complexity of the brain, it is perhaps remarkable that it performs so well, for so long. There is no doubt that the evolution of the brain, and with it a vested interest in our greatest competitive advantage, succeeded magnificently. It is also easy to recognize, that until modern medicine, how those individuals that drifted from "reality" failed to survive long in a real world- and did not suffer long under "false" perceptions.

That has indeed changed, and nothing is more heartbreaking than those suffering from the effects of mental disorders. I cannot help but to consider Descartes' cogito and wonder about those who can no longer perceive our sense of reality. Perhaps the greatest fear for most of us, as we age, is the loss of our minds- as nothing more than our thoughts, emotions and memories better defines us. Anyone who has cared for someone with Alzheimer's can certainly relate to the emotional challenges of dementia and the loss of someone we used to know. And, painfully, their loss of perception sometimes challenges ours.

Thursday, January 8, 2004

13. Politics keep it in the family

Upon taking office, President Bush appointed Michael Powell, son of Colin Powell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Elaine Chao, wife of Senator Mitch McConnell, became secretary of labor and her labor attorney is Eugene Scalia, son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. The Vice-President's daughter, Elizabeth Cheney, became deputy assistant secretary of state and her husband became chief counsel for the Office of Management and Budget. Finally, although not a complete listing, Bush appointed twenty-eight year old Storm Thurmond Jr. to U.S. attorney for South Carolina. So much for all men created equal- so much for equal opportunity employment. Of course, George W. Bush himself is a third generation Republican, with his grandfather, father and brother all serving in politics. By excising political appointments to such a degree of nepotism, staff meetings serve to double as family reunions.

Nepotism is nothing new in the history of man. Although it began long before, it was defined in the 14th century to depict the corrupt practice of appointing papal relations to office. Tribal leaders anointed their sons, monarchies ruled for centuries and modern governments operate on the premise that "to the victors go the spoils"- a term first coined when Andrew Jackson appointed a number of supporters to office, many of which were common folk and unqualified. To denounce its existence is an exercise in futility.

Its premise is understandable- who doesn't want the best for his or her children? Who doesn't want their children to take over upon resigning a position of power? And it is true; sometimes the children are the most qualified- especially in family businesses in which they grow up.

But this America, are we not all are born equal and to be judged on our accomplishments and hard work- not our last name? It is not suppose to be a meritocracy? Of course, any student of history knows better. America has consistently discriminated against women, minorities and the poor. Hard work has never had anything to do with it.

Nepotism today is referred to the practice of not just hiring a relative, but a hideously incompetent one. Outside of governments, it is prevalent in business, Hollywood and sports. It is easy to understand the resentment bestowed upon those whose path to success is paved with the bricks of entitlement, bypassing the roadblocks that hinder and frustrate others. Furthermore, and regrettably, arrogance usually accompanies entitlement- accounting for the lack of empathy for the unprivileged. Not only do the privileged grow up in affluence and attend the best schools, but they also get the contacts, interviews and references. Often, the silver platter is an office, with a view, and a vice-president title immediately out of college- with little regard for those who truly have to work their way up the corporate ladder.

The problem is that nepotism breaks at the weakest link. The consistent hiring of the anything other than the "most qualified applicant" opens the door to failure. Monarchies were lost to incompetence; businesses to the lack of leadership- for appointments were based on relationships rather than accomplishments. The press in describing the collapse of Indonesia, where nepotism is rampant, uses words like "collusion," "corruption," and "blatant" to describe the effects of nepotism on its country.

An author on the subject describes a "new nepotism." Whereas "old nepotism" was the insistence of the parent that sons and daughters follow in their footsteps; "new nepotism" is the seeking behavior of children who have discovered that making on their own is too difficult. Either way the practice is here to stay, and those, like myself, who despises the system had better come to understand that there is little that can be done about it. Currently, 95% of all businesses are family owned, including 40% of all Fortune 500 companies.

George W. Bush, in his appointments, acted in the same manner as nearly every other president. However his appointments have been a bit excessive, to the point that one naturalized citizen remarked, "I emigrated for this?" What else could be expected from someone who rode into office on his father's coat tails? The problem for most is his arrogance. A quote once directed at his father, by then-Texas agriculture commissioner Jim Hightower, more aptly describes his attitude, "Here is a man who was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple."